Why My Husband Hates Wallpaper, or Pattern Obsession and Asperger’s Syndrome

We were in a hotel room on Catalina Island when Tom came to bed fretting. robots-wallpaper

“What’s wrong?” I said.

“The tile pattern in the bathroom floor,” he said. “I can’t figure out where they started it.”

Tom sees patterns everywhere, in everything. When he enters a hotel room, he has to figure out the pattern in the carpet, on the bedspread, and in the bathroom tile. He does all this calculating quietly. We had been together for several years before he even mentioned it.

“Wallpaper is the worst,” he said. “It’s very imprecise. I have to figure out how the pattern repeats — if it goes top to bottom or left to right — and where it ends. Then I have to figure out where the seams match up, which color was printed first, and in which order each piece was hung.”

“Sounds exhausting,” I said.

“Doesn’t everyone do that?”

When I read about Asperger’s, doctors say that patterns are soothing for someone like my husband.

“It’s not soothing,” Tom said. “It’s very disruptive. They drive me crazy.”

Me:      Then why do you look for them?

Tom:   I sometimes think that Asperger’s is a “disorder of order.” Looking for  patterns is a compulsion; it’s not curiosity.

Me:      Is it like OCD?

Tom:   With OCD, there is a fear of stopping the routine or pattern. With me, there is  no fear. Nothing bad is going to happen. Noticing the pattern is just an annoyance. I wish it would stop.

Me:      Outside of hotel rooms, what other places do you see patterns?

Tom:   Nature loves patterns. Everything in nature has a pattern. It’s very predictable and there are a limited number of finite outcomes. I think that’s why people with Asperger’s tend to like studying things like weather and  astronomy.

Me:      What about people? Do people have patterns?

Tom:   There is no discernable pattern to human interaction. Maybe that’s the reason that social interaction is so difficult. Human-made patterns don’t make sense to me. People operate on an instinctual level. It’s not logical.

Me:      And what about the music you write and play? Does pattern recognition help you compose?

Tom:   Music is all pattern. It’s a closed system. The reason to keep writing or playing a piece of music is to resolve the pattern. If I had to stop in the middle, it would bother me very much.

Listening to Tom talk about patterns made me wonder if the “Asperger’s experts” are wrong about how people like my husband feel on the inside.

Maybe applying NT logic to a condition that operates from a fundamentally different type of logic is another human-made pattern that makes no sense.

©2013 Tom and Linda Peters

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5 Comments

  1. Joan Tenowich

     /  September 9, 2013

    That’s curious and quirky, and a fun read. Your ending sentence made me think too. Still I’m willing to take you and Tom on for another game of Mexican Train, even though he has the advantage of remembering all the patterns going on.

    Hope you’re both doing OK.

    Love, Mom

    Reply
  2. The tiles in my bathroom at school had no pattern. I spent hours and hours and hours checking. It was the worst.

    Reply
    • Frustrating, isn’t it? The worst part is knowing something is a random pattern, but trying to find one anyway.

      Reply
      • invisibleautistic/Robin

         /  September 16, 2013

        This is why I love and hate looking at the microscopic images on medical books! (I’m not even a med student, already forgot how I came across them.) Those dots that are meant to represent cells are in different shades of the same color, they don’t seem to have a structured pattern, and I can’t…stop…looking!

      • I know what you mean. We were wondering if an obsession with patters is why so many of us seem to go into the arts and sciences.

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